Research is a bit like mining. Usually there is way more information dug up than there is space or time to transmit it. Once collected, you must choose which gems to present and which to set aside for future polishing.
One evening in late July I had an "Aha!" moment. I'd become aware of many parallels between the 19th century author Honore de Balzac's life and the 20th century artist Pablo Picasso and as I lay them side-by-side I noted that Bob Dylan's career has revealed similar characteristics and attributes. Here are five that especially stand out.
Picasso arrived in Paris at the turn of the century, having honed his skills as a painter and draftsman in Spain left his home country to be part of the art center of the world. Dylan similarly left Minnesota for the New York, which had now become the world's arts and culture power center as a result of Europe's WW2 talent drain when many leading authors and artists fled the Nazis and the Continent.
Balzac's real situation was just a tad bit different, though similar. His family moved to Paris when he was in his mid-teens. Paris was the bustling center of culture and arts at the time. When he was 19 his family moved away from Paris to a smaller town outside the city. Balzac's ambition to become an author led him to remain in Paris, leaving home as his family moved away.
Interestingly, all three men changed their names. Balzac added stature to his name by adding the "de" between his first and last names; Honore de Balzac. Robert Zimmerman became Bob Dylan. Pablo Ruiz y Picasso was actually baptized Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Martyr Patricio Clito. Shortening to Picasso, however, reflects more practicality than ambition.
Lee Marshall, in his book Bob Dylan: The Never Ending Star, explains. “Dylan is the foundational figure in rock culture. Dylan’s shift to electric music brought to the mainstream the political authority and communal links of his folk past while his song-writing skills offered the exemplar of what could be achieved artistically within the new form.”
Balzac's influence was extensive. Marcel Proust, Émile Zola, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, Eça de Queirós, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Gustave Flaubert, Benito Pérez Galdós, Marie Corelli, Henry James, William Faulkner, Jack Kerouac, and Italo Calvino, and philosophers such as Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx all cite Balzac's influence. His simple story The Unknown Masterpiece influence avant garde artists decades later, including Cezanne, Matisse and Picasso, who at one point lived in the house that is the setting for part one of the book, the very studio where Le Guernica was painted, his own masterwork.
Picasso's influence is too pervasive to cite. All modern artists acknowledge a debt to him. A recent retrospective by the Metropolitan Museum of Art reveals the magnitude of Picasso's influence.
Comparing Dylan to Gutenberg as I did in a recent blog entry may have been overstating the case, but there's no denying that Dylan has been an significant force in contemporary culture these past fifty-plus years.
|Illustration for The Unknown Masterpiece.|
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A sixth characteristic of the three men is the manner in which their names stand alone, revealing their signatory power. Balzac. Picasso. Dylan.
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Much more could be said, but the five notions are out there...
How about you? Which of these qualities do you share? As Balzac once wrote,
"It is easy to sit up and take notice, What is difficult is getting up and taking action."